Nolan built on this idea and eventually crafted his first feature film in 1998, Following, on a budget of only $6,000. A noir thriller, the film was praised at several international film festivals and gave Nolan credibility and better financing for his next feature, a noir psychological thriller called Memento, which was co-written by him and his brother, Jonathan Nolan. The film received two Oscar nominations, for Best Screenplay and Best Editing. Nolan’s next project was another noir psychological thriller, Insomnia, which also received critical acclaim (IMDB).
Despite these successful films, it wasn’t until 2005 that Christopher Nolan really came into the spotlight. A couple years earlier, he approached Warner Brothers about remaking the Batman series, stating that he wanted to create a “darker” and less “cartoonish” feel for the caped crusader. In particular, Nolan expressed his deep desire to explain Batman’s origins, which had never been put in a feature-length film. The studio was impressed with Nolan’s ideas, and greenlit Batman Begins (Batman Begins Blu-Ray disc). Upon release, the film became a box office hit, grossing $48.7 million in its opening weekend in the US and by October grossing $205 million domestically (IMDB). The film rejuvenated and breathed new life into a franchise that ended disastrously with Joel Schumaker’s Batman and Robin in 1997. Before working on the sequel to Batman Begins, Nolan teamed up with Christian Bale and Michael Caine again in The Prestige, a film based on the Christopher Priest novel about two competing magicians. The film received 2 Oscar nominations (Cinematography and Art Direction) and was well received by critics and audiences (IMDB).
Perhaps Nolan’s best film to date was his sequel to Batman Begins---The Dark Knight. The film’s dark and (at times) disturbing tone was fueled by Heath Ledger’s maniac, chaos-inducing Joker. Although extreme criticism was met at Ledger’s initial casting as the famed villain, Heath gave an undeniably stunning performance and (after his accidental death from drug overdose) received a post-humous Oscar for his performance. The film also won an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing and was nominated for 6 other Oscars (IMDB). The Dark Knight was highly received by critics and audiences and is regarded by many today as the best superhero film ever made to date.
After The Dark Knight, Nolan finally finished writing a script nearly a decade in the making---Inception. The mind-bending sci-fi film was based on a totally original idea that Nolan came up with at the turn of the century. Although at early screenings it was thought of as too complex for the average audience member, Inception performed well at the box office and was highly received by critics and audiences alike (IMDB). Furthermore, the ambiguous ending and the sheer idea of the film generated a lot of buzz from fans (Buchanan). Inception received 8 Oscar nominations (including Best Picture) and won 4 of them for Best Achievement in Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Visual Effects (IMDB).
After Inception, Nolan returned to his Batman franchise. Although initially hesitant to make a sequel, he concluded the franchise in epic fashion with The Dark Knight Rises. Because of the success of The Dark Knight and Inception, the film was highly anticipated by many. In its opening weekend, The Dark Knight Rises brought in $160.8 million, which is currently the fourth most all-time (IMDB).
After producing Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, Nolan returned to the director's chair and is currently in post-production with Interstellar, another sci-fi film that he co-wrote with his brother. The film is set to be released November 7, 2014 (IMDB).
As with all directors, there are several trademarks of Christopher Nolan. He is best known for his non-linear storytelling and editing, as is especially evident in Memento, Batman Begins and The Prestige. He is also known for (at times) having complex plots (Inception) and especially for having his main characters possess psychological problems. (Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Inception). Nolan also uses a lot of cross-cutting (cutting between different lines of action so that it appears each is happening simultaneously). This is especially evident in The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises. In his films, Nolan frequently casts Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Ken Watanabe, and Michael Caine. In particular, Michael Caine has appeared in the last 5 of Nolan’s films, and has also been cast in Interstellar. When filming, Nolan loves using IMAX cameras, as this gives the eventual audience the best possible viewing experience. However, he dislikes 3D and has yet to release a film in this format. Ultimately, he believes the format to be “distracting” and ultimately ineffective for the viewer. One more interesting trademark of Nolan is his dislike for CGI (Computer Generated Imagery). Whenever possible, Nolan uses real stunts in his films and limits the amount of CGI. His reasoning for this is to keep everything as real and genuine for the audience as possible. He sometimes goes to somewhat extreme measures for stunts, such as the massive truck flip sequence in The Dark Knight (IMDB).
Christopher Nolan currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife, Emma Thomas (who has produced each of his films). They have four children together. (IMDB). He remains a private person, with no email address or even a cell phone (Rosen, par. 1 and 3). As one of the youngest directors in the industry, Nolan, with already a dazzling resume, has a bright future ahead of him.
Written by Anthony Watkins
Note: Next week I will write about the "Behind-the-Scenes" of the truck flip sequence in The Dark Knight. I will continue this pattern of blogging about a director and then the following week giving a Behind-the-Scenes look at a particular scene from a film by that director.
If you are further interested in Christopher Nolan's works, Cinemablography has published pages on The Dark Knight (http://www.cinemablography.org/batman.html) as well as The Prestige (http://www.cinemablography.org/the-prestige.html). Also, the history of Batman can be found on the Timeline section of the website.
Batman Begins. Screenplay by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer. Dir. Christopher Nolan. Prod. Charles Roven and Emma Thomas. 2005. Blu-Ray. Warner Bros., 2005.
Buchanan, Jason. "Christopher Nolan." The New York Times. 01 Jan. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/movies/person/240025/Christopher-Nolan/biography>.
IMDB. 2014. 01 Jan. 2014. <http://www.imdb.com>.
Rosen, Christopher. "'Dark Knight Rises': Christopher Nolan Doesn't Use A Cell Phone." Huffington Post. 20 July 2012. 01 Jan. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/19/dark-knight-rises-christopher-nolan-cell-phone_n_1687705.html>.